Abuse the elderly and discard the disabled: twin threats of euthanasia
Criminologist Jeremy Prichard, in the latest issue of the Journal of Law and Medicine, counters the call to legalize voluntary euthanasia with a sober warning. Prichard’s article is a response to a recent publication encouraging legalization of euthanasia in Australia because theirs is “a secular society with an aging population.” Prichard asserts the “individual autonomy” championed by euthanasia advocates is often not so free as claimed. The elderly, especially those of limited financial means, are at severe risk for being “pressured, inadvertently or deliberately,” to request death.1
Prichard says the elderly are easily manipulated and may be subtly pressured to relieve their families of the burden they represent. He writes, “Such [euthanasia] procedures may be safe for socially connected, financially independent individuals with high autonomy and self-efficacy, [but] circumstances may be entirely different for isolated patients with low self-efficacy who represent an unwanted burden to their carers, some of whom may benefit financially from the death of the patient (even just in a reduction of financial pressure).”
So far as this article could ascertain, only one qualitative study has investigated the issues of pressure on patients to access voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.
Noting the ease with which caregivers may lead the elderly or disabled to believe their deaths would be best for all concerned, Prichard warns, “Research on the risks of voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is in its infancy. . . . So far as this article could ascertain, only one qualitative study has investigated the issues of pressure on patients to access voluntary euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide.”
I share Prichard’s concerns about the possibility of manipulation of the elderly in these situations. In my 20 years of medical practice, I saw numerous examples of elderly patients being coerced into decisions by family members who were driven by issues of convenience or finances. In so many ways, the elderly are among the least autonomous in our society.
And not just the elderly are at risk. Two recent cases in Canada have captured media attention. Global Television Network in Canada in March aired a documentary justifying “putting down” the disabled as if they were pets, not human beings. The case of Robert Latimer, convicted of murdering his daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy, generated an outpouring of sympathy from the Canadian population and various recommendations to mitigate punishment from the legal system. Annette Corriveau, who has also appeared on the popular Dr. Phil TV program, is the mother of two adult children who are institutionalized with severe mental retardation. She is seeking permission to kill them. She says, “My children were full of life. When they were young, before this disease took hold . . . I just don’t believe that they would want to stay alive the way they are.”2
Canadian Mark Pickup, disabled by multiple sclerosis, responds:
She says that her children, who live in institutionalized care, would opt for assisted suicide if they could communicate with her. How does she know that? They have been uncommunicative since early childhood. Corriveau says they wouldn’t like to live the way they are. Of course they wouldn’t. I don’t want to live triplegic and electric wheelchair dependent from MS — but that doesn’t mean I am better off dead. Annette Corriveau’s children have not expressed a wish to die, they cannot communicate and it’s doubtful they are aware of their circumstances or even their surroundings. It’s their mother who wants them dead.3
Though 90% of the viewing audience responding to Dr. Phil’s poll4 asserted the mother should be allowed to have her children euthanized, morality is not a matter of majority opinion. Dr. Tommy Mitchell echoes Mr. Pickup when he explains:
It is puzzling to me that Ms. Corriveau seems to know what her unresponsive children would “want.” I could just as easily claim that they would want to stay alive. While this situation is certainly tragic, the murder of these two disabled children does not seem to me to be the answer here. If this is allowed, where does it end? In the future, exactly what level of “disability” is required in order for the next person to be euthanized?
Cerebral palsy victim Steve Passmore agrees. Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition finds the sensationalist media coverage of this case “dangerously one-sided”5 and passes on Mr. Passmore’s views:
Many people in society view people with disabilities as having lives that can be euthanized, like a kept pet, because of pain and suffering, that he lives with every day. . . . This story clearly shows the prejudice that people with disabilities experience in society and the threat that euthanasia and assisted suicide place on the lives of people with disabilities.6
The prevalence of the view that human beings are merely a higher form of evolved animal has added fuel to the euthanasia fires.
The prevalence of the view that human beings are merely a higher form of evolved animal has added fuel to the euthanasia fires. How can such moral issues be decided? What makes one person’s opinion of higher value than another’s? What about people who really do want to kill themselves? Is that wrong?
The only consistent basis for morality is God’s Word. Human beings have many ideas about right and wrong, but as described in the biblical book of Judges, when God’s Word is ignored, everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25). Apart from a source of truth from someone greater than man, no person’s moral judgments are more valid than another’s. Only God who created mankind is justly in a position of moral authority over all mankind. God’s account of Creation recorded in the Bible is consistent with what we see in the physical world and validates His ownership of humanity and His right to set our standards. God’s principles should prompt us to always err on the side of protecting the weak and the helpless.
God made man in His image. Therefore all human beings are of equal value in God’s sight whether or not they understand their situation. The lives of the weak and helpless always have value because God made human beings in His image. God prohibits murder according to Genesis 9:6 because He made man in His image. God commands us not to murder (Exodus 20:13) and to defend the “speechless . . . who are appointed to die” (Proverbs 31:8–9). And that is why we must demand the elderly and the disabled be protected, not subtly shoved toward suicide or “mercifully” murdered “for their own good.”
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